Create assignments that help students learn

December 1, 2020 | Claudia Stanny

Create assignments that help students learn

Great assignments promote student learning. But creating these assignments requires expertise, time, and effort. Fortunately, many great instructors are generous and share their assignments with others. This tip describes two excellent archives of assignments that engage students and promote learning on key course outcomes.

Beyond Grading: Strategies from McGill Instructors
The Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) center at McGill University has created an archive of great assignments that help students learn (Samuel et al., 2020). The TLS surveyed students to identify these assignments. They asked students to nominate an assignment that helped them learn and describe how the assignment helped them learn. The TLS staff then contacted the instructors who created these assignments and asked them to provide a description of the assignment, guidelines, and tips for instructors on how to get started and implement the assignment. The collection is posted on the McGill TLS website and currently includes over 20 assignments. All materials are posted under a Creative Commons license that allows other faculty to use or modify the assignment with appropriate citation. 

Each faculty profile in the McGill collection includes a brief summary of the assignment, including the course in which the assignment was made. You can download a supplementary document that describes the learning goals for the assignment, describes steps required to implement the assignment (including links to handouts and instructions to students), links to rubrics and other tools used to assess student work, helpful tips to instructors, and a reflection on the benefits and challenges associated with the assignment. 

NILOA Assignment Library
Assignments posted in the NILOA Assignment Library undergo a three-part peer review process. Submissions are first reviewed by NILOA team members. A team of faculty then provide peer review and suggest revisions to the assignment materials. NILOA staff serve as editors to review the revised materials before posting.

Faculty can search the NILOA collection of assignments by academic discipline and assignment characteristic (e.g., case study, capstone project, online courses, etc.), degree level (2-year/Associate’s degrees, 4-year/Bachelor’s, and Master’s), or learning proficiencies supported by the assignment (these are aligned with the AAC&U VALUE rubric learning outcomes).

Transparency in Teaching and Learning (TILT)
The TILT website does not archive assignments, but provides step-by-step guidelines for instructors who want to create a great assignment. The TILT framework assumes that assignments that support student learning clearly articulate the intended learning goals, engage and motivate students by providing unambiguous instructions for the assignment task, and explain how the instructor will evaluate submitted work. The TILT framework guides the creation and evaluation of the assignments archived in the NILOA Assignment Library.



Assignment Library (nd). National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). 

Samuel, C., Dobler, E., Maru, B., & Tovar, M. (2020, November). What’s an assignment that helped you learn? The survey says . . .  Poster presentation at the POD Annual Conference [online conference].

Teaching and Learning Services. (2019). Beyond Grading: Asses].sment Strategies from McGill Instructors – E. Obukhova. Montreal, Canada: Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University.